After Jessica Pegula earned her first trip to a grand slam quarter-final, the daughter of the owners of Buffalo’s NFL and NHL franchises scribbled on the screen of an Australian Open courtside TV camera: “hi mom, hi dad, see you next rd Jen B.”
In addition to a shoutout to her parents, that was a message for Jennifer Brady, a good friend of Pegula’s whose fourth-round match was up next in Rod Laver Arena on Monday. And after Brady won, too, setting up an all-American matchup against Pegula with a berth in the final four at stake, she used a blue marker to respond in kind, writing: “Bring it Jess!”
“It’s an opportunity for both of us,” Pegula said, recalling that she and Brady became close after playing doubles together for the United States. “I’m just happy I’m here; she’s been playing some good tennis, solidifying herself as a top player.”
The 61st-ranked Pegula beat No 5 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, before the 22nd-seeded Brady beat Donna Vekic of Croatia in three sets.
Brady and Pegula gave the US three women’s quarter-finalists at Melbourne Park, joining Serena Williams, who advanced a day earlier. Top-ranked Ash Barty ensured a fourth American didn’t make it to the last eight, beating unseeded Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-4 to set up a quarter-final against Karolina Muchova.
“I mean, it’s pretty awesome to see. I hope we can all push through,” Pegula said. “The last, I don’t know, year or so, we’ve really all pushed each other. Maybe we haven’t said it to each other, but I think we all can feel it.”
Pegula has won four matches at Melbourne Park over the past week including victories over two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur after entering the hard-court tournament with a total of three wins at majors for her career.
Also significant for Pegula, who works with Venus Williams’ former coach, David Witt: she came into the day with an 0-6 record against Top 10 women.
Witt said Pegula’s rising confidence is a big part of her progress. She found a sort of kinship with her family’s football team, the Bills, who made the playoffs three of the past four seasons behind quarterback Josh Allen after going nearly two decades without a trip to the postseason.
“Even last year, when he wasn’t playing that well, I was like, ‘I like this kid.’ I loved his competitive spirit. He was a gamer. He just wanted to win. That’s something you love to see,” she said about Allen.
“It’s definitely something I think I tried to take into my game a little bit, even watching the team getting that grit, that competitive attitude, having that mindset in tennis, it’s like 90%, sometimes, of the matches. I think it’s been really cool to watch them and kind of channel that energy into how I’ve been doing.”
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